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True Grit
2010, The Coen Brothers

Ethan and Joel Coen's second remake (the other being The Ladykillers) is wholly satisfying and purely entertaining. To label it a remake is slightly misleading, as the Brothers Coen have returned to the source material that was previously brought to the screen in the movie that got John "Duck" (I Says) Wayne his Oscar as Best Actor. It is last year's Best Actor, Jeff Bridges, filling the boots of ill-tempered, one-eyed Federal Marshall Rooster Cogburn.

While some specific details differ, the overall story is the same. Fourteen-year-old Matty Ross, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (and who is simply amazing), has come to collect the body of her father, murdered by a hired hand by the name of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who has run off into Indian Territory, likely pairing up with other outlaws led by Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper). But she has more business to attend to than simply tending to the coffin, as she intends to hire a man or men to go after and bring Chaney to justice, either by judge's rope or by bullet. Being assured the drunken Cogburn is a tough, mean S.O.B., she hires him, insists on tagging along, and the hunt is on. Also along for the ride is a young Texas Ranger, Mr. LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), also chasing the man called Chaney for a previous murder and bounty.

Besides my not being a fan of Wayne, I don't think the first adaptation of True Grit in 1969 has aged particularly well. The Coens' version is an improvement in every single way, from exposition to cinematography to the action scenes to the quality of the acting top to bottom and everything else. The first Matty, played by Kim Darby, was an actress in her twenties playing a teenager...not very convincingly. Steinfeld was only thirteen during the filming, and though playing her age she has a level of skill far beyond her years, while still truly looking the part. As for Wayne vs. Bridges, The Duck, as usual, played himself, while Bridges has crafted an actual character.

The Coens finally getting around to the Western genre is a welcome fit. It's not a reinvention of the form, certainly, rather a perfectly crafted foray that has their attention to mood, character, and action in a rousing adventure that, while stylized, has more realism in any two of its scenes than the 1969 flick had in its entire running time. Can hardly wait to see it again.